Sandy stretches in Newport Beach could be off-limits over the next few weekends after Southern California’s first spring heat wave drew thousands to the city’s shoreline despite statewide stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday will consider closing the beaches for three weekends in May or blocking roads leading to popular beach spots on the Balboa Peninsula and Corona del Mar.
City officials say they have tried to keep most public beaches, parks and open spaces accessible to the public for the mental and physical well-being of residents. But the crowds that swarmed the sand over the weekend — looking to beat the heat and weary of isolating at home —"generated significant neighborhood impacts,” according to a news release from the city.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday criticized Californians who defied the statewide stay-at-home order and flocked to beaches over the weekend. He vowed to increase statewide enforcement of the order, if necessary.
“This virus doesn’t take the weekends off,” Newsom said. “The only thing that will set us back is people stopping to practice physical distancing and appropriate social distancing. That’s the only thing that’s going to slow down our ability to reopen this economy.”
L.A. County kept its beaches closed over the weekend, but they were open in Orange and Ventura counties.
Orange County officials debated closing beaches and hiking trails last week ahead of the heat wave after coastal residents raised concerns about out-of-towners descending on their communities. After surrounding counties completely shuttered their beaches, Orange County has been inundated with people from L.A. and San Diego counties and the Inland Empire, Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said last week.
“When you take a look at the folks that are coming down, they’re not only not adhering to safer-at-home policies in their own communities,” she said, “they’re not even staying in their own counties. Especially with the warm weather, I think it’s going to be problematic.”
Officials ultimately decided to keep beaches open but left in place parking restrictions that they hoped would reduce access. Many still found their way to the shoreline, though. Some cities, including Laguna Beach and Seal Beach, have closed the stretches of sand in their jurisdictions completely.
Some expressed concern about the crowds, worried that large gatherings could spread the coronavirus further. But officials at the time said that everything seemed manageable and that many people tried to stay at least six feet apart.
Heather Rangel, a spokeswoman for the Newport Beach Police Department, said officers did not make any arrests or issue citations related to stay-at-home orders over the weekend.
The warm weather also drew crowds a few miles north in Huntington Beach. Authorities said no one was cited for violating social-distancing guidelines despite videos circulating on social media showing crowds at crosswalks heading to the ocean.
While on the sand, most people kept a safe distance apart. Many donned hats, sunglasses and umbrellas, but few wore protective face masks.
Christopher Sumners, 31, drove from Corona to Huntington Beach on Sunday morning with several friends to relax and enjoy a day in the sun.
“And freedom, also,” he said, laughing. He and five friends sprawled out on several beach towels chatting, unconcerned by health threats.
“I think you have better chances of winning the lottery or getting hit by a car than getting coronavirus,” Sumners said.
Public health experts have warned that the virus is highly contagious. Social distancing has helped slow its spread, and early stay-at-home orders in California have meant fewer deaths compared with hot spots such as New York.
As of Monday, there were 44,844 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 1,700 deaths in California. Orange County has surpassed 2,100 confirmed cases and has seen 39 virus-related deaths.
Newsom emphasized last week the need for people to continue staying home despite the warm weather. If they don’t, Newsom said, he fears he’ll soon be reporting a surge in the number of cases.
“I don’t think anybody wants to hear that,” he said. “I don’t want to share that information. But that’s really less up to me; it’s more up to all of you.”
Times staff writers Alex Wigglesworth and Phil Willon contributed to this report.